For the Right Reasons

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When I picked up For the Right Reasons, I was more excited to read it than I am most books. I’ve been watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for the past two seasons, and have become familiar with Sean Lowe’s live Tweets during the show. My husband said that if his book was anything like his Tweets, I’d love it. And I did!

For the Right Reasons by Sean Lowe
For the Right Reasons by Sean Lowe

Sean Lowe grew up in a Christian home. His parents nurtured his interest in football from a young age, and he earned a scholarship to college to play football. Unfortunately, in college he did as little as possible to get by both academically and athletically. He was eventually dropped from the business program because of his grades. After that, he sabotaged his potential for a football career by not investing in practice as much as he should. At the beginning of his career, he and two friends began a debt consolidation company. New regulations changed how they could conduct their business, though, and they lost all of their investors’ money. Sean did what he never thought he would: he became an insurance salesman like his father.

Sean’s sister and brother-in-law nominated him for The Bachelorette. After the long application process, Sean was surprised to be selected, but excited to see what could happen. He was more interested in winning than in falling in love, but found himself taken with Emily. When he was sent home, he was completely shocked. However, he was invited back to be on The Bachelor. He took the opportunity to express more of his sense of humor, which he didn’t feel he showed when he was with Emily. Sean remained indecisive until the very end of his season, but realized that it was Catherine he couldn’t live without.

Sean’s Convictions in an Unconventional Scenario

Sean kept to his Christian faith throughout The Bachelorette and The Bachelor. During The Bachelorette, he did devotions each morning. Eventually, he had several of the other guys join him for devotions. Although they were all competing for the same woman, they were able to have this devotional time together.

During The Bachelor, Sean was looking for a woman who shared the same faith that he had. Although he did not want to have sex until he was married, he decided to have the overnight dates with the women to have the opportunity for off camera time. He wanted to ask them serious questions so that he could make the decision with all of the information he needed.

After The Bachelor ended, all the media wanted to talk about with Sean and Catherine was the fact they were waiting until they were married to have sex. Interviews were consumed with the topic, ranging from curiosity to disbelief. Sean writes that although sexual purity is important, it is not the central belief of Christianity. It was unfortunate that the media made his beliefs all about his sexual purity and not about the whole of what they are.

Sean’s Sense of Humor

Reading this book was a lot like reading Sean’s Tweets. The main difference was that I got to see the more serious side of him as well. Most exciting was that I got to see the side of him that shares the same Christian faith and convictions that I do. To me, that made the humor even funnier.

Sean’s sense of humor was prevalent throughout the book. His journey had some serious hurdles: self-inflicted troubles in college, losing half a million dollars of investors’ money, and having his heart broken in front of millions of people. Yet even in the midst of telling these stories, his sense of humor makes it an enjoyable read.

Quick Review

For the Right Reasons was a great book. Sean Lowe’s convictions and faith shine throughout the pages. His troubles in college, business failure, and heartbreak make him easy to relate to. Sean’s story of finding love with Catherine is charming and surprising. And even amidst the charm, he doesn’t sugar-coat anything. His honesty about the realities of post-reality show life and making a real relationship work are refreshing. The sense of humor he has throughout his story make the entire book an exceptionally enjoyable read. Overall, this has been one of my favorite reads in a while.

This Life I Live

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This Life I Live is the heartbreaking and inspiring story of Rory Feek and his wife, Joey. The husband and wife duo became popular in the country music industry, performing as Joey+Rory until Joey’s death from cervical cancer.

This Life I Live by Rory Feek
This Life I Live by Rory Feek

Rory was raised by his mother, with occasional visits from an absent father. While he never really thought of himself as poor, his family moved from state to state to avoid landlords collecting missed rent. Even from a young age, Rory loved music and wanted to create it. As a young adult, he had two daughters. Shortly after the second was born, their mother left him alone to be a single father.

For years he raised his daughters while building his name in the country music world. When his daughters were teenagers, he met Joey. After she broke off her relationship with another man, they began dating and married quickly. They eventually began performing as a duo. Then around ten years into their marriage, they had their daughter Indiana. Shortly after, Joey was diagnosed with cervical cancer. With treatment, she had a short remission. But after that remission, the cancer returned and Joey passed away in February 2016.

Rory’s Inspiring Takeaways from a Tough Childhood

Rory’s childhood was not ideal. While his mother did her best, his father was absent most of the time. Even when he was around, he was a fairly incapable father.

One time, Rory’s father got him a guitar. Because of Rory’s budding interest in music and the poverty his family lived in, it was the most amazing gift he’d ever received. Even though it was a cheap guitar, he played it constantly and learned as much as he could. He was crushed, though, when his father asked for it back.

“I am him. I am him, learning to be more.”

Rory Feek

As Rory became a father himself, he took the lessons from his childhood and did his best to become a better man than his father was. Although there were times in which he failed his children in similar ways, he also found opportunities to become a better parent because he knew how he could do better.

Rory’s Inspiring Testimony of God’s Work in his Life

As a young parent, Rory knew about God. But he didn’t really know God. He went to church sometimes, but didn’t really have a relationship with God.

One day, he got on a bus and left town without telling his girls. He had gotten to the end of his rope and was overwhelmed with life. But along that ride, he had an encounter (that he explains far better than I can) in which he realized his need to get serious about his relationship with God. When the bus stopped, he bought a return ticket and headed home before his daughters realized he was gone.

“After a while I didn’t have to remind myself to make the good and right choices. I just started making them naturally. Because it felt so good.”

Rory Feek

His relationship with God became a grounding point for his ability to love his children and his wife. It was a love that gave him the strength to face the hard road of Joey’s cancer diagnosis. Even though at the point of his dedicating his life to God he had not yet met Joey, that time and that relationship would give him what he needed to love Joey the way he did.

Rory’s Inspiring Love for his Wife

Rory inspired the world with his love for his wife as she was diagnosed with cancer and faced her final days. Her strength and positivity throughout her fight also encouraged and inspired fans.

Some friends and family members asked Rory if he was struggling with not being with Joey physically during the time she was fighting cancer (which, by the way, seems like a terrible question to ask a man whose is dying). There was speculation about his ability to stay faithful because of his unfaithfulness to the women who came before Joey.

But even in her last days and at her weakest, Rory didn’t feel the need to stray because she was still his wife and he still loved her. He loved her for more than her physical body. Rory loved Joey for all that she was.

Quick Review

This Life I Live is an inspiring and overall easy read. It was emotional and down-to-earth. Although it wasn’t stylistically spectacular, it wasn’t bad. It read like a country song and seemed very authentic to Rory’s voice. He wrote powerfully about growing up in bad conditions, becoming a better man, and loving his wife through her cancer diagnosis and death. Despite the fact I have not listened to Joey+Rory’s music before, this was still an amazing read. Fans will likely find it even more enjoyable.

Unashamed

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Unashamed is the powerful testimony about God’s transforming work in the life of Christian artist Lecrae Moore. Lecrae writes about growing up without a father, his mistakes, and his transformation into the artist he is today.

Unashamed by Lecrae Moore
Unashamed by Lecrae Moore

Lecrae was abandoned by his father, who he never met. His mother worked hard to provide for him. Because of the emptiness left by not having a father figure in his life, Lecrae looked up to rap artists and uncles who were not always good influences on him. After being molested by a babysitter, he gained a distorted view of sexuality. He used drugs and women. However, he earned a full scholarship to college for theater and continued his lifestyle on campus. It was there that he had to opportunity to go to a conference where he accepted Jesus as his savior.

“I’ve had to learn that my natural responses aren’t normal, that the only way to live a future that’s better than my past is to cling to God in the present.”

Lecrae Moore

Unfortunately, in his zeal he also became legalistic in his approach to his relationship with God. He believed he could do enough good to wipe away all of the wrong things he had done. When he started to slip, he gave up. He began a sexual relationship with a woman who got pregnant with his child. Not wanting to be a father, he told her to get an abortion. Not long after that, they separated and he continued his lifestyle. After checking into rehab, he realized his need for God’s grace. He moved in with a Christian friend and turned his life around completely. It was then that his career as a Christian artist began to take off.

Lecrae’s abandonment by his father severely impacted his life.

Lecrae hungered so much for a male role model that he clung to any male who invested in his life. Even the rap artists he listened to became role models to fill the void his father had left. The emptiness he felt left him eager to prove himself to everyone.

Even after becoming a Christian, the scars from being fatherless still remained. While they were not being filled with drugs and women, the hunger for approval was still there. The lack of a father in his life impacted the way he saw God as a Heavenly Father.

“Because I felt like my dad valued drugs more than having me as a son, I’ve constantly wrestled with my self-worth and craved the approval of others.”

Lecrae Moore

Although I was not abandoned by my father, my complicated relationship with my father has also left its scars on my life. It has left me starved for male role models. I often crave words of affirmation from the older men in my life, especially those I have labeled as role models. Words of criticism can be taken as outright attacks. However, I have been able to work through some of these issues because I am aware of them. As I read Lecrae’s story, I connected with his emotions. I found his honesty about the journey to be healing.

Lecrae has learned to become “okay” with the tension his music creates.

Lecrae’s testimony and his outspokenness about being a Christian have led to him being labeled a “Christian artist.” While a lot of his music does talk about things related to Christianity, he has started taking a direction away from being overtly Christian in his music in order to reach more people. His conviction is that in order to reach people, he needs to be an artist who is a Christian instead of a Christian artist. He wants to write music that will speak to the boy he was growing up so that he can allow doors to be opened to conversations about faith.

“Being an outspoken Christian in the music industry means always feeling out of place. It’s like whatever you have accomplished is less credible because of your faith. You’re in the circle, but you’re not really in the circle. You fit in, but you don’t really fit in.”

Lecrae Moore

While Lecrae is never going to fit in with the non-Christian crowd, he’s also been shunned by some segments of the Christian crowd as well. When he began to shift his focus in his music to follow his convictions, he did not communicate with his fans what his intentions were. Some fans accused him of chasing money. Others claimed he wasn’t a Christian anymore. And although the path he believes God has put him on has left him in a place of tension, he is staying there.

Quick Review:

Unashamed is a powerful and emotional memoir. It is an absolute must-read for fans of Lecrae. Even for those who are not his fans, I highly recommend it because of the powerful testimony that he writes in this book’s pages. This book contains mature content like sexual abuse, drugs, and abortion. However, Lecrae handles his past mistakes and his background in a tactful away. His book gives readers a raw, yet redeemed look inside what life looks like for a young black man in America. Overall, this may be one of the best books I have read in a long time.

Augustine’s Confessions: The Story of Us All

C. C. I. Fenn is a guest blogger from Thoughts from Canaan. His blog can be found here.

You might think that humanity has changed a lot over the past 2,000 years. And I suppose in some ways it has. But when you get right down to it, people are people. Always have been, always will be.

And if you’re in doubt, just read the first memoir ever written: St. Augustine’s Confessions.

Though first penned over a millennia and a half ago, Confessions is just as relevant today as it ever was. Augustine deals with the same issues and struggles we all do. And as I read, I was reminded again and again of how stable the human condition is.

This isn’t to say that Augustine’s story sounds like it could’ve happened in modern America. The cultural distance between North Africa in the fifth century and the Western world of the twenty-first century is great.

Augustine discusses philosophic and religious ideas that the average American won’t ever encounter (I mean, when was the last time you met a Manichee?). He has relationships and conversations that will sound peculiar to modern ears (when he and his dad are in a public bath and his dad notice he is…ahem…reaching puberty, he gets excited about potential grandchildren. Augustine is 16 at the time).

But so much of what Augustine writes mirrors our own lives.

Illegitimate children? Check.

Violent entertainment? Check.

Political maneuvering? Check.

So even though the form these things take may be foreign, the reality beneath is very modern. It’s because of this that I can say Confessions is the story of us all.

Who hasn’t struggled with the problem of evil? Or felt the sting of a broken relationship? Who hasn’t gone through life without grieving? Or rejoicing? Without searching for truth or meaning in life?

These are the things we read about in Augustine’s story. And as we read them there, we’re compelled to see our own journeys in light of his.

For example, as he reflects on one particular sin (stealing some pears from a neighbor’s tree), he delves into the reasons underlying his wrong doing. He digs deeper than I ever have:

“With regard to my theft, then: what did I love in it, and in what sense did I imitate my Lord, even if only with vicious perversity? …Was I, in truth a prisoner, trying to simulate a crippled sort of freedom, attempting a shady parody of omnipotence by getting away with something forbidden?”

What a thought he has here! That we, in our sin, are fools “attempting a shady parody of omnipotence.” I can’t help but think about the sins that filled my own past. And when I think of them, I see exactly what Augustine is talking about. Every time I used my words to hurt rather than heal – every time I used others for my own advantage – what was I doing but stretching for godhood. Like a little boy who puts on his daddy’s tie and trots around the house with an empty briefcase, my sins were my way of saying “I’m a big boy. I can be just like Dad.”

“No one can tell me what to do,” I might’ve said. “Not even God.”

I was my own god.

But that’s how sin works. It’s the declaration of independence from a good, faithful, and gracious Father.

And so, as we read his Confessions, Augustine prompts us to look deeply into the well of our own hearts. Not simply to stare at ourselves like some modern Narcissus (or one of his off-spring). But in hope that God’s Spirit is stirring the waters.

Drawing us; purifying us; preparing us – all for Him.

Whether we realize it or not, this is what life is about: living into God’s call. Augustine’s prayer in the opening of his memoir couldn’t be truer: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”

Though I may not agree with all of Augustine’s theology (and I don’t), I can’t help but appreciate his journey. And – even more than that – the candor with which he recounts it. It’s a great reminder that even as the world around us changes, humanity remains largely the same. We love and fight, worship and politic. But whether we were born in the first century or the twenty-first century, we have the same problem (sin) and the same solution (Christ).

Reading Augustine’s Confessions will remind you of that fact and call you to reflect on your own journey.

May we continue down the well-worn path trodden by those who have gone before – including St. Augustine.

C. C. I. Fenn is a guest blogger from Thoughts from Canaan. Thoughts from Canaan is a blog, podcast, and community that helps its readers experience spiritual growth through knowledge and grace. His blog can be found here.

On Living

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After my friend Darbi sent me this article on Kerry Egan, the author of On Living, I quickly added the book to my “need to read” list. Because of my calling and desire to train to become a hospice chaplain, the insight from another female hospice chaplain was one that I could not pass up.

On Living by Kerry Egan
On Living by Kerry Egan

In On Living, Egan reflects on the patients she has cared for and her personal growth during her years as a hospice chaplain. Some of her stories are terribly heartbreaking. One young man was so crippled and unable to speak that Egan could not bring herself to visit a second time and was haunted by her failure to return like she had promised him she would. Another man dying of cancer held onto hope he would receive a transplant that would never happen.

Despite the heartbreak she experiences at work, most of her work is enjoyable or mundane. Because of the perception that working with “the dying” is morbid, friends are reluctant to hear her stories from work. However, she often has funny stories that are appropriate to share, even at parties. She once received criticism from an acquaintance about the validity of chaplaincy being an actual job after she explained what she had done that day. In reality, many days are mundane: talking to patients about family and being present with them. Despite how others may feel about her job, chaplaincy is an important part of end of life care.

Kerry Egan’s beliefs were very different than my own.

Despite finding this book enjoyable, I found several areas of disagreement. The biggest were her beliefs on salvation. Egan is a Christian chaplain, yet she criticizes the belief that you must be “saved” in order to have a relationship with God. While it did not appear to be her intention, she does seem to poke fun at Christians talking about the day they were saved. She said that when she wants some of the Evangelical patients to have a better day, she asks them to tell her about the day they got saved. She said it is always interesting to listen to, even if she doesn’t agree with it. When another patient said she was the reincarnation of Joan of Ark, Egan wrote that she could not say for sure reincarnation was not real. It left me with a lot of questions about what exactly she believes.

The other major area I felt Egan and I differed was in our beliefs on angels and demons. She had one patient who claimed to be possessed by a demon. Egan wrote that she sympathetically listened to the patient. She then provided spiritual resources for her, despite the fact she knew demons weren’t real. After the patient had her exorcism, Egan believed in demons, but her unbelief in them beforehand was strange to me. Later, when a patient told her that every person was assigned a guardian angel at birth, Egan pretty much wrote, “Yeah, that seems possible.” While I think it’s possible she started to realize that those nearing death might know things she did not, I found her sudden belief strange.

Despite theological differences, I found many positives in On Living.

She wrote about the gray area that all chaplains have to live in. I was able to get a feel for the balance that a chaplain has to have in order to do the job. Although I have thought about it on occasion, reading about her experiences and some of the services she has provided for patients with beliefs different from her own has really allowed me to think about what I believe and how I will balance those beliefs while serving those within my care. Chaplains live in a gray area, and that’s okay.

Another major positive that I found was that she shared her regrets with readers. The story of the man so crippled from an accident that she did not want to be near him was horrifying. Yet it made me think about times that the pain of others has made me uncomfortable. Just as she did, I learned the importance of being present with others in the worst of pain. I do not want to regret leaving someone in the throes of pain.

Quick Review:

This book is not what I was expecting it to be. I was hoping for someone more theologically similar to me. Despite our differences, though, Kerry Egan’s On Living is a very touching look into the life of a hospice chaplain. A few uses of profanity aside, she writes excellently about life among those who are dying. The stories within its pages will make you laugh and cry. Kerry Egan’s On Living is a good book about a unique job.

I Said Yes

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While he would be hesitant to confess this, I am not as embarrassed to confess that my husband and I enjoyed watching The Bachelor and the Bachelorette this season. Bachelor in Paradise just ended, so the timing seemed right to read and write about the memoir of a former Bachelor and Bachelorette star (even if I didn’t actually watch all of Bachelor in Paradise).

I Said Yes by Emily Maynard Johnson with A.J. Gregory
I Said Yes by Emily Maynard Johnson with A.J. Gregory

Emily Maynard (later Johnson) tells her heartbreaking and inspiring story about how the events in her life did not leave her too far out of reach from God’s hands. She describes her relationship with God not as a sudden conversion, but as a frog jumping from lily pad to lily pad. Emily gives readers a glimpse into each of her “lily pad” moments, allowing them to become immersed in her journey.

Barely out of high school, Emily became engaged and moved in with her fiance. They began planning a future together when he was killed suddenly in a plane crash. Shortly after his funeral, she finds herself pregnant with his daughter. Emily finds some solace in the beliefs of his Christian family.

After raising her daughter alone for a few years, a friend nominated her to be on The Bachelor. She was surprised when she not only got a call, but made the cast. Despite her reluctance, she went on the show to give love a chance. After being the final contestant and finding herself engaged to the bachelor, her relationship with him ends because of personality differences.

Throughout her description of the process of being on The Bachelor, I was shocked at how much of it did not seem scripted. She was told very little about what was going on. With no access to the outside world, emotions ran high between the women (explaining a lot of what viewers see on camera). While it makes sense that the women cannot be sharing what is going on with all of their friends and family, it probably doesn’t lead to good decision-making.

Not long after that, she was asked to become The Bachelorette. She asked that she be able to have a suite with her daughter there, so that she did not have to be away from her daughter during the entire filming time. To her surprise (and mine) the network agreed. She also was adamant that she did not want to get engaged at the end of the show, but only wanted to have the chance at a serious relationship. With a fledgling relationship with God and a desire to find a man with the same beliefs, she went on the show. When she chose the last man to receive a rose, he proposed to her. With cameras and eyes on her, she said “yes.”

What surprised me most about her perspective from The Bachelorette was that things seemed a lot more scripted from the bachelorette’s side of things. When conversation was slow, her producers would give her talking points (based on personality and background assessments given to all of the men). When I watched The Bachelor this past season, I sort of wondered how much the bachelor was acting off of a script or talking points on some of the dates. This part of the book made me feel like this side of it is a lot more scripted, even if the person may genuinely be looking for love.

After her relationship with the “winner” of her season on The Bachelorette failed, she ended up falling in love with and marrying a man she met at church. They have two children and her relationship with God has continued to grow. Her story is one that inspires young people to remember that before they can focus on finding romantic love, they should find and be confident in God’s love.

Into the Deep

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I came upon this absolutely heartbreaking, yet inspirational memoir while browsing through The Ohio Digital Library. I am drawn toward stories that have that “Investigation Discovery” feel. Even though it was a natural disaster that claimed the family of Robert Rogers and not human actions, I think it’s the same interest that drew me to this book.

Into the Deep by Robert Rogers with Stan Finger
Into the Deep by Robert Rogers with Stan Finger

While driving back home from a family member’s wedding, flash flooding caused the road to be covered in water. Robert’s wife, Melissa, was driving and was too deep into the water to turn back by the time they realized they were in it. The cars in front of them were passing through fine and they were boxed in with cars behind them, unable to stop. Meanwhile, it continued to rain and the water continued to flow across the road, getting deeper.

The water began to fill the car, waking up their four children, who became frightened. A man came to the window to try to offer them help, but was swept away by the water. When they seemed to have no other option because they were not moving through the water, Robert kicked out the passenger side window, and he and his oldest daughter were sucked out of the car and into the water. He and his wife had planned to swim to the surface and try to save their children, but he fought just to stay alive and ended up on the embankment bruised and scraped. He made it to the emergency response teams and pleaded for help for his family. They transported him to the hospital after seeing no sign of his family.

At the hospital, he was informed that his four children were dead and his wife could not be found. Three days and a press conference later, when the water had receded, they found her body as well. His family, the hospital staff, and the people of his city poured out an amazing amount of love and support for him during his grief. The rest of the book reflects on the years he had with his family and the process of grieving their loss and giving glory to God despite the pain.

Robert Rogers is a beautiful example of grieving with grace.

I really enjoyed this book. I have not cried so hard reading anything in such a long time. Nearly every few chapters made me burst out in tears, feeling so appreciative of what I have. Repeatedly throughout the pages, Rogers wrote that throughout his grieving and discussions with others, he wanted to make sure that people came to know God better and appreciate their loved ones more. He accomplished that in my reading of the book.

“I heard so many times from so many people, ‘God never gives you more than you can handle.’ I eventually came to believe that ‘God will always give you more than you can bear alone, because He doesn’t want you to bear it without Him.’ Alone, this cross was unbearable. But with God, it was possible.”

Robert Rogers

Timing is always crazy. Mount Vernon had flash flood warnings the week I was reading this book, so I felt especially emotional. Before the flash flood warnings, though, my husband and I were driving to and from Columbus for a date in very heavy rain, and I kept thinking about what I had been reading. I soaked in every moment of that date night and have been intentional in taking every moment I can to tell him that I love him. Though no one wants to think about it, you never know when something as unexpected as a rain storm could take away those you love.

The Girl Behind the Door

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I was browsing the biography section of The Ohio Digital Library when I came upon this book. It looked interesting, so I put it on hold and thought nothing else of it for a couple more months, until it showed up in my email account as available.

The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks
The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks

John Brooks wrote the heart-wrenching story of traveling overseas to bring home a baby girl who was unhealthy from not receiving the care and attention she needed to raising a troubled teenager who would eventually end her life by stepping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. Brooks shared in painful detail the signs he only saw after the fact of her struggle to find her place in the world, and a diagnosis the he would only find after her death to be attachment disorder.

This book broke my heart because of my desire to foster children.

In his writing about attachment disorder and how it impacted his daughter’s ability to love and feel loved, Brooks explained that many children who are adopted are impacted by this disorder. Even children who are adopted very young, like his daughter Casey, have this overwhelming feeling that they are undesirable and that no one could ever love or want them. They struggle to build deep or lasting attachments, and often act out in burst of anger or emotion. It is an absolutely haunting condition to imagine anyone going through, especially one you have chosen to bring into your home to love and care for.

I will not even pretend to know what that feels like because I have never been adopted and I have do not have many friends who were. However, my husband have known for several years that we wanted to at the very least foster children with the possibility of adopting them. Casey was not just one case of the grief caused by attachment disorder. So many children are suffering and need to be loved and cared for by people who are not going to hurt them. While there is a part of me that feels overwhelmed and not good enough for such a task, I know that some day my husband and I may come to love one such child. Maybe even more.

The number of people who jump of of bridges is heartbreaking.

It surprised and saddened me that so many people use bridges like the Golden Gate to commit suicide. At the time the book was written, about thirty people a year jumped off that bridge to die. There is a project underway, due to be completed in 2019, to build a barrier to try to prevent these kind of acts. That may prevent people from jumping from bridges, but it does not deal with the pain that makes them jump.

I am not entirely sure what to make of this book after reading it. I feel more aware. I feel more heartbroken. But I do not know what to do about it except to love those around me better than I did before. One of them could be hurting and I wouldn’t even know it. I do not want to have to come aware of a loved one’s suffering only when it is too late.